‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’—Expect Hot Action Plus the Summer’s Coolest Romance

August 1, 2015 Updated: August 2, 2015

Tom Cruise—say what you will about him—his espousal of, you know, certain thetanic… tenets, his heartfelt and misunderstood need to jump on couches, whatever. He’s still the most savvy action producer-star out there.

In the role of Ethan Hunt, he’s out-Bonded every Bond actor longevity-wise, he has great movie-making integrity, and he’s one of our most underrated actors. We could all use some of his thetanic conviction, apparently. “Thetan” is an L. Ron Hubbard-coined Scientology term, in case you weren’t aware.

Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt in “Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation,” from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions. (Bo Bridges/© 2015 Paramount Pictures)

 So here he is again, banging out a fifth blockbuster with “Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation.” Added to “Jurassic World” and “Ant-Man,” it completes a 2015 summer triumvirate of bona fide blockbusters.

Bad-Guy Update

This latest installment finally brings the series current with geopolitical terrorism as the all-pervading threat (instead of the Cold War).

A spate of downed passenger jets, military coups, and World Bank financial upheaval is suspected to be the work of “the Syndicate,” a super-secret, multinational, trans-agency team of operators formerly tasked for good, now gone rogue (Rogue Nation, that is),  led by one lizard-like Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).

So Hunt’s team should be able to jump right in there and start smoking them out, right? Nope. After Hunt and the boys turned the Kremlin into a smoking pothole (previous movie), they’re in serious hot water with the U.S. government.

CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) tells a congressional oversight committee that Hunt and the Impossible Missions Force are dangerous—admittedly talented, but mostly lucky. They all need corralling back onto the CIA reservation. However, Hunt’s already hot on the Syndicate’s trail and will not stand down.

To the Opera, Ethan

So Hunt and techno-geek team member Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) jet-set to Vienna. The Syndicate’s put out a hit on the Austrian chancellor, so first there’s a prolonged bit of skulking about the Vienna Opera House during a performance of “Turandot”; catwalk fisticuffs, sniper rifles disguised as woodwind instruments, knife-play on guy wires—everything but actual swinging from chandeliers.

After Vienna, we get a Casablanca car-and-motorcycle chase. Director Hunley has set IMF members William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) after their wayward colleagues. Best line in the midst of the hullaballoo: “It’s a high-speed chase!! You just had to pick the 4×4 (lumbering Landrover) didn’t you? Just had to have it!”

Femme Fatale

The Casablanca setting was clearly fashioned around female lead Rebecca Ferguson, who’s Swedish, because of that other Swedish actress, Ingrid Bergman, who made a little movie called “Casablanca.” Ferguson’s character is named Ilsa. And Rebecca-as-Ilsa looks a lot like Ingrid. Nice.

Ilsa’s mysterious; she appears to be working with Lane but may also be on Hunt’s side. Either way, she just about steals the whole movie out from under Tom Cruise.

Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt and Rebecca Ferguson plays Ilsa in “Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation,” from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions. (Courtesy of David James/© 2015 Paramount Pictures)

 She’s his female equal; like a lioness, her body radiates high charisma. Very heroic. You just know she’s going to prevail, and root for her regardless of whose side she might be on.

Ilsa’s signature martial arts move is to mount much bigger opponents’ bodies (lying or standing), to their shoulders, and triangle-choke them with a jiujitsu leg-lock, and rain down lethal blows.

Rebecca Ferguson plays agent Ilsa Faust in “Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation,” from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions. (Courtesy of Keith Hamshere/© 2015 Paramount Pictures)

Main thing about Ilsa, though, is that you sense in the midst of all her duplicity a deep loyalty. She risks her life to save kindred spirit Hunt’s, in a display of nurturing and commitment that makes their unspoken, minimal-contact “relationship” the most oddly satisfying male-female thing you’ve seen all summer.

Hunt’s the Man

However, even though she’s his equal, “Mission: Impossible” is still Cruise-town. There are three mind-blowing set pieces: First up is the trailer-featured shot of Cruise’s character freaking out, white-knuckling the locked door of a big ol’ taxiing A-400 military cargo plane, his feet flapping in the void. Why does he look like he’s freaking out? Because Cruise did this stunt himself, and that is actually him, thinking he’s going to actually die.

Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, doing his own stunt. From Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions (Courtesy of Bo Bridges/© 2015 Paramount Pictures)
Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt in “Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation,” doing his own stunt. From Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.
(Bo Bridges/© 2015 Paramount Pictures)

Then, there’s an underwater sequence in something that looks like a G-force centrifuge module, where Hunt has to switch out an electronic chip, no oxygen tank, while avoiding getting clocked by two orbiting rotor arms spinning in opposite directions.

Finally there’s the Moroccan, 200-mph helmet-less motorcycle chase, which showcases some of the best bike stunts seen in movies. And don’t try this at home; all that insanely angled, motorcycle Grand Prix-type knee-dragging Cruise and Ferguson are doing cannot be done without a pro “knee puck” protecting your patella from getting lathed off. But it sure looks convincing!

Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt in “Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation,” from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.  (2015 Paramount Pictures)

 How Good Is It?

Big-time fun. Action- and tension-wise it puts an immediate triangle choke on your focus and doesn’t let go, which is what we want from an action movie; we want a Six Flags experience—Cruise delivers.

As mentioned, Cruise has always been an underrated actor due to pretty-boy looks, but his ever-so-slightly supernormal energy and intensity make him perfect for what has now become his signature movie role.

Simon Pegg’s character is always the comic relief, but he’s got one apoplectic scene, livid at the thought of being left out of the action (“I am a field agent!!”) where you think, “That’s actually quite formidable.”

L-R: Alec Baldwin plays Hunley and Simon Pegg plays Benji in Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation. From Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions (Courtesy of Christian Black/© 2015 Paramount Pictures)
Alec Baldwin (L) plays Hunley and Simon Pegg plays Benji  in “Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation,” from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions. (Christian Black/© 2015 Paramount Pictures)

Pegg was also apoplectic about movie posters that portrayed Ilsa in more of a sexy Bond-girl mode, in an interview with USA Today. Seems there was more to the Ingrid Bergman–Rebecca Ferguson parallel; Bergman was known for her deep sense of honor. Rebecca-as-Ilsa radiates that quality too, and Pegg felt the posters were cheapening this wholesomeness.

Alec Baldwin’s line “Sir, Ethan Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny,” incited a flurry of audience tittering at the New York press screening. Which means Baldwin’s either becoming a caricature of himself and getting into William Shatner-type unintentional camp territory, or he meant to camp it up. Since Baldwin’s a consummate comedic actor (any actor able to keep a straight face during his classic “Saturday Night Live” “Schweddy” skits can do very little wrong), we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

While the film doesn’t have the down-to-earth, funnier touch of previous director Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”), the new director puts his own stamp on it. And the fun of this franchise is that each new director gets to showcase their art—all enhanced, sharpened, and crafted by Cruise’s creativity as a producer.

‘Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation’
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin
Running Time: 2 hours, 11 minutes
Release Date: July 31
Rated PG-13
4 stars out of 5

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch